Saturday, October 30, 2010

Surname Saturday: WHITAKER of Haverhill, MA

With Halloween approaching and the Salem trials a hot topic I decided to dig out one line with a Salem connection. The Whitakers are my husband's paternal grandmother's family. Before migrating west to Kansas before the Civil War they were firmly settled in New England for generations. The earliest Whitakers settled in Haverhill, MA and were there during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. I've found no evidence these individuals were involved in the Salem trials, though surnames from associated families appear in the records as both accused and accusers.

      Descendants of Abraham WHITAKER

      1-Abraham WHITAKER, son of Abraham WHITAKER, was born in 1626 in
         England and died on 5 May 1701 in Haverhill, Essex, MA at age 75. 

        Abraham married Elizabeth SIMONDS, daughter of William SIMONDS and 
        Elizabeth WIFE OF WILLIAM SIMONDS, on 19 Mar 1655 in Haverhill, Essex, 
        MA. Elizabeth was born in 1635 and died on 5 Nov 1683 in Haverhill, 
        Essex, MA at age 48. They had ten children: Abraham, William, Isaac, 
        Hannah, Jacob, Hannah, Elizabeth, Henry, Hannah, and Jonathan.

           2-Abraham WHITICKER Jr. was born on 28 Feb 1656 in Haverhill, Essex, 
             MA and died after 1733. 

             Abraham married Hannah BEANE on 6 Apr 1682 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. 
             Hannah was born in 1659 in Exeter, Rockingham, NH and died on 18 Jul 
             1691 in Haverhill, Essex, MA at age 32. They had five children: 
             Abraham, John, Jacob, Hannah, and Hannah.

                3-Abraham WHITICKER was born on 20 May 1683 in Haverhill, 
                  Essex, MA and died on 5 May 1691 in Haverhill, Essex, MA at 
                  age 7. 

                3-John WHITICKER was born on 1 May 1685 in Haverhill, Essex, 

                3-Jacob WHITICKER was born on 22 Apr 1687 in Haverhill, Essex, 
                  MA and died on 29 May 1687 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. 

                3-Hannah WHITICKER was born on 21 Apr 1688 in Haverhill, Essex, 
                  MA and died on 29 Oct 1693 in Haverhill, Essex, MA at age 5. 

                3-Hannah WHITICKER was born in May 1690 in Haverhill, Essex, 

             Abraham next married Sarah TRASK, daughter of Henry TRASK and Mary 
             SOUTHWICK, on 7 Sep 1694 in Lynn, Essex, MA. Sarah was born in 
             Salem, MA and died on 8 Feb 1704 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. They had 
             two children: Jonathan and Anna.

                3-Jonathan WHITAKER was born on 7 Aug 1696 in Haverhill, Essex, 
                  MA and died on 3 Jul 1786 in Stafford, , CT at age 89. 

                  Jonathan married Abigail LAMBERT, daughter of John LAMBERT and 
                  Unknown, on 5 Nov 1718. Abigail was born in 1693, died on 13 
                  Jul 1790 in Stafford, Tolland, CT at age 97, and was buried in 
                  Old Stafford Street Cemetery, Stafford, Tolland, CT. They had 
                  seven children: Abigail, Sarah, Elizabeth, Jonathan, Abraham, 
                  Henry, and Ann.
                3-Anna WHITAKER was born on 20 Aug 1698 in Haverhill, Essex, 

             Abraham next married Huldah CORLISS on 27 Dec 1704 in Haverhill, 
             Essex, MA. Huldah was born on 18 Nov 1661 in Haverhill, Essex, MA 
             and died in Haverhill, Essex, MA.

           2-William WHITAKER was born on 21 Sep 1658 in Haverhill, Essex, MA 
             and died in 1723 in MA at age 65. 

             William married Sarah EMERSON on 15 Jan 1684 in Haverhill, Essex, 
             MA. Sarah was born in 1665 in Haverhill, Essex, MA and died in 1702 
             in Haverhill, Essex, MA at age 37.

             William next married Mary CORLY on 23 Jan 1703 in Haverhill, Essex, 

           2-Isaac WHITAKER was born on 30 Jul 1661 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. 

           2-Hannah WHITAKER was born on 15 Apr 1664 in Haverhill, Essex, MA 
             and died on 30 Jul 1664. 

           2-Jacob WHITAKER was born on 26 May 1665 in Haverhill, Essex, MA and 
             died in 1742 at age 77. 

             Jacob married Mary WEBSTER in 1693. Mary was born in 1670 and died 
             in 1763 at age 93.

           2-Hannah WHITAKER was born in Sep 1668 in Haverhill, Essex, MA and 
             died in Sep 1668. 

           2-Elizabeth WHITAKER was born on 26 Jan 1669 in Haverhill, Essex, 

           2-Henry WHITAKER was born on 24 Sep 1672 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. 

           2-Hannah WHITAKER was born on 19 Mar 1675 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. 

           2-Jonathan WHITAKER was born on 27 Aug 1679 in Haverhill, Essex, MA. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Uncle Vasil's Family

A portrait of my great-uncle Vasil's family taken in 1965 at their mother's funeral. Vasil died in 1957. His youngest brother Mikola (who had no shoes) is seated 3rd from the left.  

Vasil Popp Family, Photograph, 11 April 1965. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 1992.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Philip Mulkey Will, written 1876

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch for providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

Will of Philip Mulkey, Proven Oct 1st 1883,

            I, Phillip Mulkey do make and published my last Will and Testament hereby revoking and making void all former wills by me at any former time made.
First, I direct that my funeral expenses and my just debts be paid as Soon after my death as possible out of any money that I may die possessed, or may first come into the hands of my executors.
Secondly, I will to my daughter Sarah Furgerson one Dollar, -
Thirdly, I will to my Son Isaac Mulkey one Dollar;
Fourthly I will to my Son James Mulkey one Dollar;
Fifthly I will to my Daughter Rachel McAdams, one Dollar;
Sixth I will to my Daughter Ann Eliza Bayles one dollar.
Seventh, I will to my Daughter Elizabeth Mulkey one dollar,
Eight, I will and direct that my wife Mary Jane Mulkey have my farm on which, I am now living during natural lifetime or as long as she remains my widow after her death (or in the event she should Marry again) then my afore Said farm and all the right and title is to vest in my daughter Ida M Mulkey;
Ninthly I direct that all my personal property of every description go to my wife, and daughter in the same way and Conditions, that my farm is willed.
Lastly I hereby nominate and appoint James H. Walker and D. M. Sheffey, Executors of this my last Will and Testament.
                        This June the 5th 1876,
Witnessed by
J.J. Carroll,                                                                                    Philip Mulkey
C.M. Merell,

Source: Hawkins County (TN) Will Book 1, pp. 555-556. 

Notes - Mulkey family researchers from the families of James and Rachel have referred to Philip Mulkey disinheriting them because of their Union loyalties during the Civil War and have pointed to this will as evidence. While not discounting that there was family tension over the War, I do not see this will as evidence of such. Rather, it seems a standard will leaving property to support minor children. 

There is the possibility that Philip deprived them of money their maternal grandmother Sarah Hunt Duncan had intended them to have. In 1852, shortly before moving from Washington County, TN to Macoupin County, IL, she deeded 128 acres of land to Philip with the stipulation that he give $200 to his children when they come of age. I have not found the record yet of how he disposed of the land, nor have I seen any deeds that would support or contradict his executing Sarah Duncan's wishes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Once upon a time or why Uncle Vasil firebombed the church

This is the first in an occasional series examining some family stories I’ve been told over the years. This is my favorite.

The setting is a Carpathian mountain village known today as Berezovo in the Ukraine. The time frame is in the early 20th century, most likely shortly before World War I.
My great-uncle Vasil was the eldest of my great-grandparents’ eleven children and the father of ten himself. His mother, Maria Tegze, had the money in the family. She was tightfisted with her children, but generous to the priest in Berezovo.
Vasil was married with a growing family while his youngest brothers and sisters were still at home. He went to his mother and complained that his younger brother Mikula didn't even have shoes that fit and that his own children were growing rapidly. She was giving too much to the Church when her own family needed help.
When Maria sent him packing he went to the priest to complain. The priest, not surprisingly, felt his mother was perfectly entitled to give him money, and didn't seem too concerned about the shoes. Vasil came back later, firebombed the church, and the priest left town - quickly. No one knew whether the children got new shoes.
Where to begin? First, let me say that I believe the basic elements of the story are true. I didn’t always, but I do now.

The story was told to us with considerable relish in 1992 by Vasil’s grandchildren during a visit to Slovakia and the Ukraine. Four of his children were still alive. The story of Vasil and the church was part of their family lore.

It absolutely was not part of ours. My grandfather Stephen, one of Vasil's younger brothers, died more than a decade before I was born, so all I know of his family is filtered through the stories my father and aunt told me. According to my father, my great-grandfather Ivan was a carousing alcoholic ne’er-do-well. Stephen despised him and was determined to be nothing like him. He told his children the family was well off, owned land, but that everything came from his mother’s family and that she managed the farm. He had been sent off to school, the tuition paid by his maternal grandmother. His mother’s brother, Fr. Victor Thegze (Tegze) was a priest. He had come to America years earlier. 

The sense I had of Maria was a long-suffering, devout woman working hard to raise her children despite her husband and making sure her son had as many opportunities available to him as possible. While never said explicitly it seemed to me that my grandfather revered his mother.

Vasil’s family had another image of Ivan and Maria. They spoke of Vasil and Ivan going off together for days to visit other villages, of Maria as stingy and dour. They portrayed the men as carefree guys out for a good time and Maria as a killjoy. There was a glee in the idea that Vasil had routed the priest, a sense of him as the protector of his family.

I had trouble believing this was true. It seemed so foreign from the family I knew – and I use that word deliberately. I could imagine Maria supporting the church; I couldn’t imagine her letting her children go unshod. I couldn’t imagine my devout grandfather attacking his church. My own father flirted briefly with idea of becoming a priest; another cousin had. It seemed impossible that anyone in the family would do such a thing.

But as I thought about the trip, the people we had met, their lives and our lives, the stories made sense. My father’s family is the prototypical immigrant family. Ellis Island, hard work, education, better lives for the children and grandchildren – the whole shebang. The stories I heard about our family reflected that experience.

Our cousins in Europe had a very different 20th century. Wars, Stalin and the domination of the Soviet Union took their toll. The stories they told emphasized family loyalty, cunning and a lack of respect for authority. Looked at from those perspectives the different family stories made complete sense.

Even so, my sympathies rested with my great-grandmother Maria Tegze. Boys being boys doesn’t cut it when there are fields to be tended and children to be reared. My grandfather’s view of his father rang true. I decided the story was interesting, but probably exaggerated.

Until I read this.
The wife of Géza Thegze, a priest in Vyshni Bystryi (Felsöbisztra), was attacked with a knife, and their house set on fire by unknown arsonists four times![1]
This was written in 1939 and refers to events before 1901 in a village a little more than thirty miles by road from Berezovo. (The book was translated and published in the United States in 1990.) The author was describing a time of increased economic distress and growing turmoil in the region. Suddenly the fish tale of Uncle Vasil firebombing the church seemed more plausible. If there were other episodes of anticlerical violence then Vasil's actions, though outrageous from my modern American standards, were not unique. He, used to wandering the region with his father, would have known of this other attack. I also had no evidence of my family exaggerating any other stories or information. Indeed, there were  instances of a public story and the more truthful, family version.

So I’ve set aside my sympathies and adopted the story as a way of expressing my family’s survival instincts. My squabbles with bureaucracies and life's petty annoyances do not compare in any way to my cousins' very real suffering at the hands of the Soviet Union. Still, Uncle Vasil has crossed my mind more than once when dealing with AT&T.  And it's just such a good story.

One more thing – one of Uncle Vasil’s sons, Stefan, became a well known scholar and priest.

[1] Alexander Bonkáló (The Rusyns. Fairview, N.J.: [Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center], 1990), p. 136.

Submitted to the 99th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Painting the Full Picture

I attended a funeral early this week - one of those real world, real life events that I research and document. A phone call, a text to my daughter to come take care of the dogs, quick laundry and we were out the door.

Ten hours across Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska looking at the hills, plains and sky I hadn't seen in 25 years. Breathtaking. Ten hours passing spots where this ancestor or that appeared on a census, married or died, wishing all the while we could stop for just one hour, one cemetery, one photo. Frustrating. An evening visiting with close, but distant kin, embracing and embraced.

He seemed a gentle man, though I didn't know him well, and it became clear over the day we were there that he had been a force to be reckoned with in many lives. Much loved by his wife of 34 years, my husband's aunt, and her family. Admired and loved by his own children and the community he lived in his entire life. Between her family and his half the church was filled - 10 surviving children, 31 grandchildren, 58 great-grandchildren. A gigantic Deere tractor led us to the cemetery - fitting for a life-long rancher and equipment salesman.

A long life, well lived. All lovely - except for the complications. Divorce, strained relationships, family members meeting one another for the first time. What impressed me so was that there was space for mixed feelings, acceptance that we are sometimes bruised by one another, respect for the full range of emotions involved. The smiles were polite, and sincere, and even rueful. The warmth was genuine.

We met another aunt for the first time, a dynamic, engaging woman that I hope we meet again. She resembles her mother rather than her father, which can only be a blessing. I am, it seems, not as gracious as the rest of the family. But for his sins - and they were many - her father had some wonderful children who built lives the best they could. Plenty of bruises along the way, plenty of mixed feelings. But lots of warmth and laughter, too.

And then we left. Ten more hours back home looking at the sky and listening to Cliff Lee dominate the Yankees, admiring his talent and hating the results.

I've new information to add to my data. Some names and dates. But they don't paint the full picture that the direct looks, rueful smiles and hugs did.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Iva & Flora Williams c. 1903

Iva Williams (1900-1993) and her mother, Flora McAdams Williams (1867-1945). This image is undated but, given Iva's appearance, was taken around 1903. It was most likely take at a studio in Johnson City, TN. The image is a digital reproduction of a scanned copy made in the 1990s. The location of the original photograph is unknown.

Source:  Iva & Flora Williams, Scanned reproduction of original image, c. 1903. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 1999.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Birthday Dance

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch for providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

This is another news clipping found in the papers of Iva Williams Sawyer (1900-1993).  The clipping is undated, but since Janis Sawyer was born 23 Dec. 1930, it would have appeared in late 1942 or early 1943 in a Morristown, TN newspaper.


Miss Janis Sawyer entertained with a dance Wednesday evening from eight, until eleven, at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Sawyer on East First North Street. Twenty young guests enjoyed the affair, which marked the twelfth birthday of Miss Sawyer.

The home was beautifully decorated in keeping with the Yuletide season. Dancing and contests, in which Betty Lee Taylor, Betty Waldren, Graham Vance and Hugh Nistrom were presented with prizes, provided the evening's entertainment.

During the evening, Mrs. Sawyer, assisted by Miss Joan Sawyer, served a delicious dessert course, consisting of punch, ice cream and cookies.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The rivers run ...

With a blog named for the Nolichucky River, this year’s Blog Action Day! theme of water is a natural. As are rivers. Rivers move. They rage, flood, flow, wash and meander. They define our migration, our settlements. They are our boundaries, our highways. We sing of them, write of them, dream of them.

And when I was young, we watched them burn.
Even 20 years after the 1972 Clean Water Act my children, growing up along the Grand River in Michigan, were forbidden to swim in the river and all but disinfected after swimming in Lake Michigan near its mouth. While I still worry about the long-term health effects, today’s Grand is renewed. 
My 'heritage' rivers - the Nolichucky in North Carolina and East Tennessee and the Rika in the Ukraine - are smaller mountain rivers draining into large watersheds. The waters of the Nolichucky flow out of the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, feeding into the French Broad, the Tennessee, the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. The Rika, rising in the Carpathian Mountains, flows south to the Tysa (Tysza) and eventually drains into the Danube north of Belgrade.  
Relatively remote and with limited human populations nearby, they have not been polluted to the extent the downstream rivers have been. Still, there are threats to each from runoff waters. 
Siltation, or the sediment from soil erosion, is the greatest threat. The resulting cloudiness in the water reduces the light available to the river ecosystem, damages water filtration systems used for power generation and drinking water, and can even inhibit recreational uses. Logging in the Smoky Mountains during 19th and early 20th centuries dramatically increased erosion and runoff. Commercial development is the largest contributing factor today to siltation in the Nolichucky. Logging and desperately needed development in the Carpathian Mountains compete with the environmental threats to the Rika, though the Ukraine and six other governments have signed an agreement to promote sustainable development in the mountains. 
Increased levels of E. coli and contaminants from fertilizers and pesticides also threaten the rivers. 
I was pleased when I investigated the current state of the Nolichucky River to find it being monitored and improving in quality. Farmers and developers are being encouraged to limit livestock access to the river and to install drainage systems to reduce stormwater runoff. These actions resulted in improved water quality in the three sections of the river being monitored for poor quality. One section was so improved it was removed from the list. 
I have not been able to investigate the water quality of the Rika. Instead, I have watched as red sludge from an industrial site oozes into the Danube and threatens more villages in Hungary. Depressing as that vision is, I hold onto the improvements made here following the Clean Water Act and hope that similar efforts in Central and Eastern Europe will lead to cleaner rivers there.

For further information on

Photograph from the U.S. National Archives.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not so Wordless Wednesday: Mystery Women of Greene County

Last month Elizabeth posted a fantastic photograph from her grandmother's album, Parasol Girls at Little Bytes of Life. I was smitten with it and have gone back to look at it several times. She mentioned that it might have been taken in Greene County, TN. I have my own stash of mystery women from my aunt Selma's photo albums - taken in and around Greene County at the same time she thought her photo might have been taken.

I am not saying any of these women were Elizabeth's Parasol Girls, but I do see a resemblance. Their summer frocks were prettier than these (especially that striped jacket!), and the parasol far more evocative than the wall, but that's not the point. Actually, there is no point. Not having enough mysteries in my research I'm manufacturing more...

Still, take a look at this woman. Picture her with glasses, leaning against a ladder, under a parasol. Then give me virtual slap upside the head and tell me to get back to work. (But you see it, don't you?)

Photographs:  Unknown. Digital Images. From photo albums of Selma Sawyer, Greene County, TN. Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 1997.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Divining faiths

Families have different defining characteristics. You'd best be a baseball fan in our household - we love baseball. We're dog people, not cat people. We travel, as far and as frequently as humanly possible. We don't agree on politics - at all.

Over the years I've traced all kinds of traits back through our families - some good, some not. But one theme has been remarkably constant - strong religious faith and participation. Families have clearly defined church memberships that extend for generations.

It's been a challenge, however, decoding the religious backgrounds of my Northern Neck in-laws. The "recent" members of the Palmer & Meredith clan were born in the 1840s, educated at Catholic boarding schools and devout Roman Catholics.  But I've searched in vain for evidence that their ancestors were Catholic. I learned that there were no Catholic churches in the Northern Neck until long after the Civil War. Colonial Virginia banned Catholic priests, forcing the few Catholic families in Virginia to worship privately in their homes, leaving no public record of their faith. A marriage bond recorded in Colonial Virginia is evidence of a Protestant marriage ceremony. Finding records frustrated me with this crowd - not my normal response. There are, however, plenty of missing marriage records.

Thomas Meredith, a wealthy 19th century Baltimore merchant, was Catholic. He educated many of his nephews and nieces at Catholic schools, but the evidence is clear they were not baptized Catholics as children. Letters refer to two nephews deciding not to become Catholic. Niece Margaret Meredith was baptized at school in 1840, when she was about 18 years old. Nephew William V. Meredith is referred to as a convert in a newspaper article celebrating his 25th anniversary as a priest.  One of Meredith's maternal uncles, William Yerby, was married in a Catholic church in Baltimore. There's no indication the Merediths before Thomas were Catholic.  Indeed, his presumptive ancestor, John Meredith, tried to wrest control of an estate from Edwin Conway in 1654 by alleging he was a Papist. The only hint of evidence that any earlier Palmers were Catholic is the Maryland marriage of one of James Palmer's aunts to a Brent, a family that had Catholic branches. John Meredith's third wife was a Brent, but they were married in Lancaster County by a Protestant minister.

Too many shards of information and no clear answers! Seeing things graphically often helps me, so I made a descendancy chart tracing known Catholics, known Protestants, and the unknowns.

The chart reinforces the central role Thomas Meredith played in their lives - and in my research. I know about those family members he corresponded with. Those he didn't are still ciphers. John Meredith's children were particularly close to him after being orphaned in 1835. He played a lesser role with other nieces and nephews.

I noticed that proven Catholics left the Northern Neck and lived in places with Catholic institutions - where they left records. Only John A. Palmer remained in Virginia. Thomas & his sister-in-law Margaret Piet Meredith lived in Baltimore. His Yerby uncle lived in Baltimore before moving to Mississippi. Maria Lee Palmer and her mother settled in Frederick, MD.  Nephew William V. Meredith moved to Maryland and became a Redemptorist priest in 1853. Presumed grandniece Caroline Meredith seems to have become a Sister of Charity after living in a Baltimore Catholic orphanage following her parents' deaths.

I don't believe I'm going to get a definitive thumbs up or down on this group. My hunch is that at least the Yerbys had ties to Catholicism and when economic opportunities took men to cities with Catholic institutions and populations they married into Catholic families. Thomas Meredith seems to have been a deciding factor in the faiths of his brother John's orphans.

There is still much more research I can do. I am hoping to take some time next spring and visit archives in Baltimore, Richmond and Lancaster County.  Some of the family connections are far from proven, but I'm hopeful that church archives may help.

Source: Image from Wikimedia commons.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Follow Friday:NARAtions

I know I'm preaching to the choir here - but I love NARAtions, the National Archives blog. Yesterday's post announcing their History Happens Here! project had me all but dancing around the room. Talk about fun!
This, of course, is from a woman whose children know their way around Williamsburg far better than Disneyworld. Gotta add this to my tool of tricks for future trips with future grandchildren. I'm even running through our own photos in my mind and wondering if any of them would work for something like this. There might be a few...

Photograph snagged from NARAtions.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: The river

After the collapse of the Soviet Union my father, aunt, sister and I went to Europe to see if we could reconnect with the families of my grandparents. While my aunt had maintained contact with my grandmother's family in eastern Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), we had lost all contact with my grandfather's family. 

We were successful beyond any dreams we had. We visited Baba's nieces and nephews, her village of Prislop, saw family graves and met family we thought never to meet. Through a cousin relay I still don't understand we made contact with my grandfather's family. We visited cousins living in Czechoslovakia and Hungary and were smuggled across the border into the Ukraine (we had no visas). There we visited family in Uzhgorod, Khust and my grandfather's village, known today as Berezovo. It was enormously moving, an experience I still have trouble writing about.

While we were there a cousin gave us this small painting. I believe it is of the river running by Berezovo - the Rika. My cousin's husband painted it in 1989. It's what I have of my grandfather's home.

Source:  Untitled painting, Vasil Britnak, 1989. Digital Image.  Privately held by Nolichucky Roots [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], 2001.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: 1918 Letter to Dr. Byron Palmer

Thanks to John at Transylvanian Dutch for providing a framework (and nudge) for transcribing family records, news clippings and other treasures.

This is another transcription of a document from the papers of Maria Lee Palmer Smith (1844-1931), my husband's great-grandmother. It is apparently a copy of a letter she sent to Byron S. Palmer in response to inquiry from him about the Palmer Family. Punctuation, format and spelling are retained from the original, though line breaks have been altered.

[page 1]
                        College Park,
                                                                                                Frederick, Md
                                                                                                   May 24 – 1918

Dr. Byron S. Palmer,
Palmyra, N.Y.

Dear Doctor;
                        I did received a communication  from you dated Feb. 1917, but, at that time I was in the deepest sorrow caused by the death of a beloved son.
I am very sorry I can give you only such little information.
My father died when I was only three years old. My mother brother and myself moved to Maryland
[page 2]
which has been my home almost all my life. The few letters and records we possessed were lost during “the war between the States” when the vessel on which we had permission to go to our old home in Va. was confiscated by the Union government. As you will see I had no Aunts or Uncles on my father’s side – only two great Aunts who died long years ago.
In 1899 I wrote to Senator John M. Palmer of Springfield Illinois who wrote me his father and grandfather were born in Northumberland Co. Va. That they went to Kentucky in 1794. His grandfather Isaac Palmer was born Nov. 1. 1747. His grandfather was a soldier in the Rev. war & received a pension for serving six months as a Minute man.
[page 3]
He said he took much interest in my endeavor to trace the Palmers and he had no doubt we were akin.
His great grandfather was Thomas Palmer. I have the following from John McCauley Palmer of West Point New York in 1904. “Thomas Palmer went to Va. from England early in the 18th century. One of his sons Isaac was born in Northumberland Co. Va in 1747 Nov. 1st. resembles somewhat Senator (Palmer’s) records. Isaac Palmer m. Ann McAuley of Northumberland Co. in June 1747.
Louis D. Palmer 3d son of Isaac & Ann Palmer was born in Northumberland Co. June 23. 1781.
I have heard the other two sons of Isaac Palmer were John & William & one of them went north from Va. Louis D. Palmer, m. Ann Hansford Gott (sp?) who was born in Culpepper Co in 1886. John McAuley Palmer was a
 [page 4]
son of Louis D. Palmer & was born in Kentucky in 1817.
My grandfather Col. J. Armstead Palmer was a very progressive man – owned almost one thousand acres of land & many slaves. With some other gentlemen he was instrumental in securing a line of steamers between Baltimore & the Northern Neck & as wood was the only fuel procurable he & these other gentlemen had the contract to furnish the steamers with wood. My brother John T. A. Palmer of Kilmarnock Lancaster Co. was also most active & progressive until his health was greatly impaired by a sun stroke. I am afraid you will find all this unsatisfactory, but, it is the best I can do.
Our old home place where my brother resides lies both in Lancaster & Northumberland Co. Va Wishing you much success I am
Maria Lee Smith

Byron Palmer spent decades collecting information about the Palmer families. His research was the basis for the Horace Wilbur Palmer's massive Palmers in America.  Maria Lee may have included information with the letter outlining her specific Palmer descent, but nothing else was found with this copy. Nor were any of the letter's from Palmer to Maria Lee found during the first examination of the papers.

The references to Col. Palmer's association with the steamships, to the loss of records during the Civil War and to her brother's illness as sun stroke are all new to me.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stepping away

Daniel Hubbard at Personal Past Meditations - A Genealogical Blog wrote beautifully about documenting not only sources, but the logic of one's conclusions, in his posting "Begging the Citation". He speaks to my chief frustration with genealogy software - the ease with which it allows me to collect data, to link individuals without any logic or rationale at all.

I have a name. I find a record with that name. I attach it to the name and presto! - a source. And I'm off to the next one. It's brainless, it's addictive. It's like a video game - or crack. Depending on the program I may not have typed any words at all. Making sense of my choices, drawing conclusions and preserving those conclusions requires writing - an anathema in the world of instant genealogy.

I have multiple George Perekstas in my database. I can prove at least two appeared in early 20th c. US census records. And I can prove multiple immigration records for what appear to be multiple Georges. But did I write down why I linked a specific record to a specific George? No. I'm as lazy about it as anyone, and mystified by my own conclusions when I revisit research after a couple years.

My fault. I know better. Before I used software my notebooks included research logs and notes (and arrows, doodles and coffee spills) that allow me to follow my train of thought. I have been lax recording notes in the software programs (yes, I know it's possible), far too quick to attach possible records to individuals without recording the rationale behind the decision, too willing to enter tentative or potential relationships for research purposes.

But the worst part of it - the part that has me swearing off software for research and reverting to pen, paper and Excel files - is trying to repair the mistakes. It's a snake pit trying to undo links, repair relationships. I've spent an absurd amount of time cleaning up after myself.

So, time out. I'm stepping away from the software. I've pared the tree down to a pedigree, lopping off all the "possible" branches. I'm adding research notes (dated) and short biographies when warranted. No quill or ink involved, but I'm writing. At some point I will start researching again and tackle my surname databases. Maybe I can produce something useful with them. If I do, it won't involve collecting names or sources, but analyzing and writing about them.

Postscript: I don't mean this to be a complete rant about software. The developers have not forced me to be lazy. I do appreciate the design and reporting elements of the programs. I love the graphic elements and being able to attach digital images. I will return - once I know how to behave.